The new monograph Who Is Michael Jang? looks at the curious and covert career of photographer Michael Jang. To be released on September 17 by Atelier Editions, it offers “readers an eagerly anticipated examination of Jang’s truly idiosyncratic oeuvre,” says Atelier.
For nearly 40 years, Jang worked as a successful commercial portrait photographer, but at the same time he accumulated a vast archive of spontaneous images influenced by the street photography of Lee Friedlander, Diane Arbus and Garry Winogrand and others. He kept these personal, more spontaneous images to himself until 2001, when he submitted several of them to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. The immediate acclaim his work garnered was the catalyst for a number of international exhibitions, book projects and zines, and now the Atelier Editions’ monograph.
The book has earned praise for Jang—and some puzzlement about him—from some renowned photographers.
Magnum photographer Alec Soth writes, “I don’t know if he’s a hipster or a nerd, a conceptual genius or instinctual savant. All I know is that he takes some of the best pictures I’ve ever seen.”
Photographer and professional skateboarder Ed Templeton says the photos are “an incredible time capsule of American life in ’70s and ’80s California” seen through Jang’s “witty, inquisitive, and offbeat eyes.”
In the foreword to the book, artist and curator Erik Kessels attempts to break down exactly what makes Jang’s images so captivating. His work is “not just funny, it’s humorous. It makes you laugh, then it makes you think, then it makes you laugh even more,” writes Kessels. In addition to the humor of the work, Kessels says it’s the layers, imbued with contradictions (funny and deep, superficial and layered), that set Jang’s work apart. “At first glance at one of his images you get one story, look again and you’ll get three others.”
The monograph launches in tandem with “Michael Jang’s California,” an exhibition curated by Sandra S. Phillips opening at McEvoy Foundation for the Arts in San Francisco on September 27. The show, writes the foundation, “presents a rare journey through Jang’s career, from his early student work in the 1970s—much of which is largely unknown—to commercial headshots of aspiring TV weather reporters in the 1980s, to his series on teenage garage bands in the early 2000s.”
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